After smoking cigarettes for 35 years, Kathy Nichols found a good enough reason to stop.
She noticed she had trouble breathing after doing light chores such as carrying a load of laundry through her house.
The years of smoking were starting to catch up with her.
During a visit to her doctor, she took a lung-capacity test and was told she had the lungs of a 70-year-old woman. Nichols was only in her early 50s.
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"That's what really made me stop," she said. "It was time to quit. And I did."
On Thursday the American Cancer Society will mark its 34th annual Great American Smokeout. It will offer smoking cessation information and cold turkey sandwiches to smokers in exchange for their cigarettes at Wichita-area YMCAs — north, south, east, west and central branches — from 6 to 9 a.m. Thursday.
"We know that quitting smoking is tough and that most smokers have to try several times before quitting for good," said Dana Kemp, regional communications director for the American Cancer Society.
The group offers resources ranging from online tips to personalized telephone coaching by trained specialists.
"We hope that smokers will use the Great American Smokeout to map out a course of action that will help them quit, and in turn stay well and celebrate more birthdays," Kemp said.
Nichols said the Great American Smokeout has fallen on her birthday several times, but she never saw that as inspiration to quit.
"I just kept going," she said.
She grew up with parents who smoked and thinks that might have contributed to her picking up the habit when she was 18. Nichols was going to nursing school and working at a hospital at night. The work was stressful, she says, and smoking helped her cope.
Now her two sons smoke. She said she tells them they should quit, but she knows they have to want it for themselves.
"You can't make somebody stop," she said. "You can't push anybody into it."
In 2008 cigarette smoking rose slightly for the first time in almost 15 years. Just fewer than 21 percent of U.S. adults said they smoked, according to a national survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's up slightly from the year before, when 19.8 percent of Americans said they smoked.
A couple of years after her initial lung-capacity test, Nichols returned to her doctor for a follow-up. That time, she said, the results were dramatically better. Her lung capacity had returned to what it should be for a woman her age.
"I haven't smoked since," she said.
Nichols has been smoke-free for about five years and has some advice for anyone thinking about quitting.
"Do it," she said. "Just go ahead and do it. Don't hesitate."